Filling Your Office 365 Administrator Role
The Office 365 ecosystem brings with it a paradigm shift in your IT staffing model. With the traditional "on-premise" IT model, where the server infrastructure is located and managed internally, the IT administrator role had an overwhelming emphasis on knowing the intricacies of the server operating system and hardware. This required deep IT technical skills. With Office 365, the server infrastructure and operating system administration are entirely in the hands of Microsoft engineers. That is a significant piece of the Office 365 value proposition that I believe is often overlooked and is particularly valuable to smaller organizations that do not have deep IT expertise on their team.
Office 365 Administration Tasks
What is left regarding Office 365 administration is predominantly managing the configuration settings at the software applications level: Exchange email, SharePoint, Teams, Skype, etc. Most of the settings are based on the implementation of company policy. For example, whether or not to allow your staff to send out links to OneDrive files for editing by external users. These are the primary tasks that your O365 administrator needs to manage.
Managing users and groups is all about establishing what applications each of your staff members need access to and what level of permission they should be assigned. The whole area of permission settings is very intricate and the key to ensuring that you have the proper level of control over confidential information. We will get into detail on permission management in a future blog post. For now, the one point I would like to convey is that all users should be managed at the group level and not individually. That will ensure a consistent application of company policy and streamlines the addition or removal of users from the system.
Office 365 resources refer to items like a conference room, data projector, company van, etc. Essentially any resource or asset that is shared and therefore needs to be reserved on a scheduled basis. These resources are set up in Office 365 somewhat like an actual user, but they cannot manage their settings, preferences, etc. The Office 365 administrator needs to set up the resources with their availability parameters so that the rest of the users can reserve them through the regular calendar appointment request process.
Managing subscriptions and billings is an essential task for the administrator to ensure that the company is not overpaying for subscriptions that are not being used, as well as to ensure that everyone has the proper subscription level. There may be situations where you can meet the needs of an employee with a less expensive plan. The value of managing these subscriptions increase in proportion to the size of the company.
Managing help and support requests begins with an active end user training program, which we will address in our next blog post. The more efficient your training program is, the fewer help and support issues you will need to work through. I can attest from my personal experiences that the Microsoft Office 365 help and support services are very efficient and high quality. A good administrator will set up a process for staff to do the first level of self-support using Microsoft's help resources.
The next step is to process a support request with the administrator who can conduct a complete self-help process and then ultimately post a support request with Microsoft engineers. When you open a support request, a Microsoft engineer with knowledge of the application area you are having the problem with will call you back. They will typically want to initiate a screen sharing session so they can accurately see what is happening and demonstrate for you how to resolve the issue. The main point I want to make about this process is that you have an extensive pool of Microsoft engineers ready to help you deal with any technical issues and up to this point at least, it is provided as part of the cost of your Office 365 subscription. Working through problems with the engineers has been one of the most effective ways to learn about the intricacies of Office 365. This level of technical support further reduces the level of technical skills the administrator must have.
Managing application installation and configuration is simplified with Office 365 mainly because the majority of the apps are pre-installed as cloud applications, so all the administrator has to focus on is the configuration settings. Even the installation of the desktop applications is easier because they are pulled down directly from the users Office 365 portal. So you avoid spending time locating the application software files and licensing codes.
So who should be your Office 365 Administrator?
The answer is going to depend on many factors such as the size of your organization and the level of internal IT support currently available. You may very well want to set this up as a shared responsibility between two people. One person being the technology specialist and the other being the policy and procedures specialist. It can be challenging to find both of those skill sets in one individual. The other option to consider is outsourcing the technical role to an Office 365 managed service provider. These are individuals or companies that specialize in the administration of Office 365 and can fulfill the role remotely. Therefore they can offer a cost-effective alternative.
If you are going to the marketplace to hire this position, realize that there will be a limited pool of candidates. Office 365 has just begun to gain critical mass adoption in the past few years. Your best bet is to find someone who has the appropriate Office 365 certification from Microsoft. Realize that this just establishes a level of technical competence and does not qualify the level of experience of the individual. As always be sure to do a thorough check of the candidate's references.
My final point is don't take the importance of this role lightly. The Office 365 administrator will be empowered to access every aspect of your Office 365 deployment and data. Be sure you have confidence and trust in the person(s) fulfilling this role. Good luck!